Spiritual Sensory Stimulation program brings holistic approach to memory care to Spring Mill

February 27, 2017

The program uses four of the five senses to help residents recall religious thoughts and memories.

It is never easy to see a loved one suffer from memory loss.

It’s an unfortunate reality that so many people and their loved ones must face on a daily basis. As of 2016, 5.4 million Americans had been diagnosed with Alzheimer ’s disease. Of those 5.4 million Americans, 5.2 million were age 65 and older. So that means, as of 2016, 1 in 9 Americans age 65 and older had some form of Alzheimer’s disease. (Stats: alz.org)

But as time has gone on, more and more innovative techniques and approaches are being perfected to aid in the fight against the unfortunate reality that is memory loss.

One of those techniques is being perfected at Presby’s Inspired Life’s Spring Mill community and it’s called Spiritual Sensory Stimulation.

Spiritual Sensual Stimulation is a memory therapy technique targeted toward lower-functioning residents that utilizes four of the five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing) to massage a resident’s memory to help the resident recall specific religious events and accompanying memories of those events.

For example, resident in the program will be shown pictures of the Virgin Mary, given tactile stories of the Nativity to feel as religious holiday music plays in order to recall the Christmas holiday and the idea of mothers.

Combining her backgrounds in counseling, neurobiology and religious teaching, Spring Mill chaplain Manisha Shendge brought the program to the community and facilitates it with residents in small group settings.

“It’s a scientific approach to recalling religious memories,” Manisha said. “This is a way to worship for those who may not be able to outwardly do so.

“We have residents in our memory therapy programs who have wide ranges of cognitive functioning. It can be tough to reach all at once. So in order to help our lesser-functioning residents worship, we use this program.”

Those residents in the Spiritual Sensual Stimulation program are broken off into small sensory groups of 2-4 people to allow for more intricate attention.

From there, they use “sensory bins” that contain various materials for them to touch and see. Manisha also feels aromatherapy is an effective part of the program and that the scents of rosemary and lavender, in particular, can be very effective. Familiar music is also used.

“Some residents in our memory care neighborhood may only be able to communicate through their sense of feel, smell, sight and hearing and/or sense of taste, said Lori Gresko, an administrator at Spring Mill. “Manisha has incorporated these to allow the residents to be able to experience worship at their own levels.”

Memory loss can be a barrier to many normal things in life we can take for granted. While the ability to worship outwardly may diminished, the spirit is still alive and well on the inside.

With the help of the Spiritual Stimulation Program, the spirit of those devoted to religion can let that spirit glow in spite of their memory loss.

Currently three of four Presby’s Inspired Life communities ― Rydal Park, Spring Mill and Broomall ― have units dedicated to supporting those with dementia and its related disorders.